JURASSIC PARK. 30 years since the premiere of Spielberg’s hit

The famous American critic Roger Ebert described Spielberg’s film as a triumph of special effects artistry.

Jakub Piwoński

12 June 2023

Although they have not been on Earth for over sixty million years, the memory of them is still alive. Dinosaurs continue to fascinate because they evoke domination that succumbed to the forces of nature and the principles of evolution. But thanks to the animated, cinematic image, you can once again feel their power and understand how small we are in the face of their greatness.

There have been many attempts to credibly present a prehistoric reptile in cinema. The story of the presence of dinosaurs on the big screen was presented by an editorial colleague, so I will not quote it again. However, every sympathizer of the subject knows that only one film is the pinnacle of showing dinosaurs in the cinema. Of course, we are talking about Jurassic Park from 1993 by Steven Spielberg, a work celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

During this 30 years, we saw six parts of the extremely popular dinosaur series. A series that is also the result of the huge financial and artistic success of Spielberg’s film. What is so special about dinosaurs and the way they were shown in 1993 that they still excite us so much and we still want to see them today? I will try to answer these questions, relying more on sentiment for Spielberg’s film than on a reliable indication of its pluses and minuses.

Because the overriding fact in this case is that I was a child strongly fixated on dinosaurs. Some collected stamps, others turbo-rubber car notes, others put all their effort into kicking a ball, while I thought about the past. The most ancient past. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in history, and dinosaurs were one of the first items on my list. I had a lot of popular science literature at my disposal, which I browsed before I could read. My collection of rubber dinosaur figurines was also quite large, which I just loved to surround myself with. Suffice it to say that one of the first professions I dreamed of was an archaeologist or paleontologist. Years later, I can say that fate winked at me and slightly mocked these youthful desires by placing me in a museum – thanks to which I became not so much a supplier of historical memorabilia as their guardian.

In this way, I want to make it clear what a great event in my life the premiere of Jurassic Park was. Unfortunately, I was not able to see Spielberg’s film in the cinema. So my first screening took place a few months after the premiere, with the participation of a TV set, a VHS tape and the lights of the living room turned off. I will never forget these emotions. This is one of those shows that you remember all your life. Among other things, then I understood what the magic of cinema is, and I considered Spielberg to be the greatest of magicians. The dinosaurs brought to life on the screen seemed as real to me as the colorful food products that appeared on store shelves in the early 1990s were real. So I know how Dr. Sattler felt when she saw the Brachiosaurus for the first time. The greatest dream of a young lover of prehistory has materialized – to experience a meeting with monsters previously known only from the pages of books.

This adventure would not have been possible without Michael Crichton. It was this widely read American author who created the novel in 1990, which later became the basis for Spielberg’s film. He also assisted David Koepp in writing the screenplay. It is worth emphasizing that studios fought a fierce battle for the film rights to the book. Several directors showed interest in the project. It was James Cameron who wanted to make a movie about dinosaurs. Ultimately, Universal paid Crichton $2 million for the opportunity to bring the book to the screen. Interestingly, all this happened even before the book was published.

In retrospect, however, it can be openly admitted that Spielberg did a great job. The huge financial success of the film (it was among the elite group of films with over a billion dollars in the account) is one thing, but its cultural impact is another. After the premiere of the film, interest in not only all thematic gadgets increased, but also … paleontology. This course has become very attractive to students. Jurassic Park, however, is above all a breakthrough in implementation. The famous American critic Roger Ebert described Spielberg’s film as a triumph of special effects artistry. It’s hard not to look at the film through the prism of the spectacularity it managed to achieve by combining practical effects with the capabilities of the computer, which helps with both the image and sound. I don’t know about you, but the first Tyrannosaurus exposure, shrouded in rain and darkness, gives me the same shivers every time. It is a showcase of the film’s craftsmanship underlined by skillfully built tension.

As Polish critic Zygmunt Kałużyński once wrote, intellectual criticism accuses Spielberg of “technical baroque”, suggesting that he prefers form over content. However, this is a short-sighted assumption, which Kałużyński himself rectifies with the following words: “Spielberg transforms the themes of popular culture, adapting them to an audience that is both juvenile and mature at the same time. It is a cinema that seeks to embrace all generations and to adapt inherited legends to our century.” Further adding that he is also a “carrier of ideology”. And it’s hard to find a better summary of the work of the author of Jaws. Spielberg clearly believes in the principle of learning through play. In my opinion, the main strength of Jurassic Park lies in the fact that under the spectacular layer of the show, the film hides important messages, bluntly formulated, extremely close to the tradition of science fiction.

First of all, the film is an emanation of one of the most popular SF themes, which Polish author Andrzej Kołodyński in his book Heritage of the Imagination described as a dark oasis, and I used to call it simply a lost world, thus referring to the famous book by Arthur Conan Doyle. There is no denying that both the work of the Scottish artist and films such as King Kong, about a land forgotten by God and man, where prehistoric creatures survived, must have had a strong influence on Michael Crichton. Their theme leads to the conclusion that nature has the advantage over culture that it hides many secrets and is generally so great that we are unable to control it. Crichton has also admitted in interviews that his Jurassic Park is a reaction to the growing position of scientism, understood as an exaggerated faith in science.

Life finds a way…

This leads to another message, which in the film is skillfully taught to us by Dr. Malcolm, the character played by Jeff Goldblum. In one of the key scenes of the film, in which the main characters get to know both the idea behind Hammond, the owner of the park, and the technology he used to bring the dinosaurs back to life, it can be seen that in the case of Jurassic Park we are dealing with another use of Frankenstein myth. Mary Shelley’s novel suggested how dangerous the human rush to circumvent the laws of nature is. In Malcolm’s famous words – “life will find a way” – which can also be translated as a reference to nature that does not tolerate a vacuum, because there is a warning against the consequences of playing God.

There is a scene in the film, quite inconspicuous, but highly suggestive, which is also the perfect punch line of the film. When Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) board a helicopter that is taking off, the former, unable to fasten his seat belts, finally loses patience and decides to tie them. Life will find a way. If it’s going to survive, it will, if it’s going to die, it’s going to die, and trying to control this living process is fundamentally pointless. Then we wrestle with something that goes beyond the area of our human, extremely limited competence.

But Jurassic Park is also, or above all, an excellent monster movie. For years, movie monsters have had one basic function – acting with horror, they are supposed to evoke the pupated features of ourselves. The creatures hide our flaws, imperfections and the deepest, darkest fears. However, what distinguishes Jurassic Park from other films dealing with giants bringing destruction to man is that he cites examples of creatures that really existed. For as long as dinosaurs have lived on Earth, human rule is nothing. This evokes both the highest respect and humility, as well as deep fear hidden in the eternal question. Because what if, by some miracle, nature decided to confront past and present dominant beings? Would we even have anywhere to hide?

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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